Skip to main content
Education and Outreach Programs

Neuqua Valley High School ESRP 2013 - Team 1

XRF Microanalysis of Copper Through Its Chelation of Melanin In Canine Hair


  • Students:
    • Lillian Brister
    • Evelyn Darden
    • Garrett Ginel
    • Nicole Jandick
  • Teachers:
    • Michael Kennedy
    • Patricia Noblett
  • Mentors:
    • Antonio Lanzirotti (University of Chicago, GSECARS)
    • Matthew Newville (University of Chicago, GSECARS)

Advanced Photon Source Sector 13: GSECARS

The two protein pigments found in hair are eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin creates black and brown pigments in the hair and pheomelanin is responsible for red-brown hair colors. Eumelanin is an organometallic compound that can strongly chelate copper. The purpose of this experiment is to evaluate the relative sensitivity of copper binding to small differences in melanin content and type in hair. In hair, two forms of biological melanin are the most common. Eumelanin is the polymer protein that gives hair its black-brown color, low concentrations of eumelanin (in the absence of other forms of melanin) will give hair a more yellow (blonde) coloring, and the presence of pheomelanin (the red-brown melanin polymer) is responsible for red hair coloration. In earlier research, scientists have linked the copper found in fossilized feathers to remnant eumelanin preserved in the fossils.  They also inferred that these differences in copper distribution, therefore, may reflect differences in original feather color. This study tests that assumption by measuring degree to which copper is accumulated in hair of different coloring. Canine hair was collected from pet grooming companies, and half of the samples were soaked in copper while the other samples were kept in distilled water X-ray fluorescence was used to determine the levels of copper in each of the samples.  Using this technique a possible correlation between copper levels and hair color could be analyzed.

Download Poster